This page last updated: 10 July 2000

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Hawaii mail routes

This map of Hawaii taken from Whitney's 1890 Guide shows the various mail routes. For other maps, see Maps of Hawaii. Kawaihae is boxed in green at the upper left, Hilo is boxed in red at the right and Waiohinu is boxed in blue near the bottom. The Hilo to Kawaihae (black line) route was the first route, followed by the Hilo to Waiohinu via Volcano House (red line to Volcano House and (blue line) between Volcano House and Waiohinu) route. Overland service between North Kohala and Waimea (brown lines) connected to the Hilo-Kawaihae carrier. The Kawaihae to Waiohinu route via Kona (green lines) was the last to be established permanently. Mahukona replaced Kawaihae as a significant port in the early 1880's when railroad service opened between Mahukona and the interior of North Kohala (also shown with brown lines). Another short railroad was operated between Punaluu and Pahala for tourists visiting Volcano House to see Kilauea Volcano.

A mail route was established between Hilo and Kawaihae in 1854 but it was suspended in 1855 until May 1, 1856, when Whitney announced three overland carrier routes. Over the next few years there was experimentation with routes and gradual expansion of coverage. The overland routes up to 1880 were relatively simple:

Hawaii mail routes - North

  • Kawaihae to Hilo and return: as described by Whitney in his May 1, 1856 announcement, the carrier was to leave Captain Law's store at Kawaihae every Thursday for Benjamin Pitman's store in Hilo via Hamakua and return, leaving Mr. Pitman's store on Monday. This overland route was the earliest to be operated anywhere in the kingdom and, with some minor adjustment for days of arrival and departure, remained in operation until about 1880. Until the late 1850's when a horse trail was cut, the route was performed entirely on foot and the carrier averaged 40 miles per day carrying from 10 to 15 lbs. of mail! By 1880, the route was still performed on horseback. The carrier picked up and delivered mail along the route, either at post offices located in the North Hilo and Hamakua Districts, or at residences and settlements without post offices. Letter collection boxes were established at various places along the route.

Bicknell docket Nov75 cover 35
Bicknell docket Nov75

A letter mailed from the area of Kukuihaele and picked up by the carrier from Hilo en route to Kawaihae in November, 1875. The docket mark identifies Rev. Bicknell, a resident, and the Kawaihae backstamp shows the routing.

Waimea ms _Feb77

Mailed from Waimea in February, 1877, this letter was carried to Kawaihae by the weekly overland carrier coming up from Hilo.

Hawaii mail routes - West

  • Kawaihae to Kealakekua and return: Whitney's May 1, 1856 announcement stated a carrier was to leave Captain Law's store at Kawaihae on the first and third Thursday of every month for Capt. Cumming's store at Kealakekua and return, leaving Capt. Cumming's store on the first and third Tuesday. The first part of the route was performed on horseback and the stretch between Kailua and Kealakekua was done by canoe until 1857. A wagon road eventually connected the various Kona towns.

  • Kealakekua to Waiohinu and return: an 1860 experiment to cover this route by horseback was short-lived, but the route was re-opened in 1866 and was operated continuously thereafter. In the 1880's the carrier coming up from Ka'u met the carrier coming down from Kealakekua at Kainaliu.

Lahaina 17Feb68 Forbes

This letter originated at Kaluaaha, Molokai, was taken to Lahaina by work boat and then by steamer to Kawaihae and from there by overland mail via Kealakekua and Waiohinu to Keaiwa in Ka'u. The overland route designation was penned by the sender, Rev. A. O Forbes, the postmaster at Kaluaaha.

  • Hilo to Waiohinu and return: Whitney's May 1, 1856 announcement stated a carrier was to leave Mr. Pitman's store in Hilo on the first and third Monday of each month for Mr. Shipman's residence at Waiohinu in Ka'u and return to Hilo on the first and third Thursday. This route was performed on horseback until a coach road was built in the 1880's. While the Waiohinu to Kealakekua route was attempted in 1860, this route was suspended.

Jones to Judd via Waiohinu 15Jul72

Letter docketed July 15, 1872, from George C. Jones at Volcano House to Honolulu via Waiohinu and Kawaihae as determined by the taget circle of dashed lines used at the latter town. The square cancel mark has yet to be identified with a town, but it may have been used by the Volcano House postal agent.

  • Kohala to Waimea and return: this route connected weekly with the carrier going between Kawaihae and Hilo.

Kohala ms 18Dec69

Kohala to Hilo via Waimea to connect with the carrier from Kawaihae to Hilo, dated December 18, 1869.

These arrangements worked until about 1880, when improved steamer service brought direct mail landings at other ports. Also, in 1882, the Hawaiian Railroad Co. opened its railroad from Mahukona to the interior of Kohala and Mahukona replaced Kawaihae as the major port for the western and northern parts of Hawaii. The first change was to split the Kawaihae to Hilo route so a carrier went down from Kawaihae to the vicinity of Paauilo or Honokaa and another carrier came up from Hilo to meet the Kawaihae carrier. Principal routes in the 1880's were:

  • Mahukona to Kapaau and return: by railroad to the interior of North Kohala.

  • Waiohinu to Kaalualu and return: a special carrier to the landing at Kaalualu was working in 1881.

  • Kawaihae or Mahukona to Paauilo or Honokaa, and return: upon arrival of the Likelike at Kawaihae, a carrier left Kawaihae with the mail for Paauilo via Waimea and Kukuihaele. At Paauilo the carrier coming up from Hilo met the Kawaihae carrier. By 1886, Kawaihae no longer was the principal port, having been replaced by Mahukona, so the mail carrier left from Mahukona for Honokaa via Kawaihae, Waimea, Kealakekua and Paauilo. The carrier from Hilo connected with the Mahukona carrier at Honokaa. A coach road connected Kawaihae and Honokaa. The carrier operated weekly from Mahukona to Honokaa.

  • Hilo to Hamakua or North Hilo: this route was the other end of the route connecting Hilo and Kawaihae or Mahukona after the route was split about 1880. In 1892, service between Hilo and Hakalau was performed daily. By then, the steamer Kinau landed weekly at Laupahoehoe and mail was distributed from there to Ookala on the north and Hakalau on the south. Every ten days, the Hilo carrier went as far north as Honokaa and return.

Mahukona 281_01 3Aug96

This letter went from Hilo to Kohala by the overland carrier via Hamakua, Waimea, Kawaihae and Mahukona.

Hawaii mail routes - South

  • Hilo to Kailua via Waiohinu: upon the arrival of the steamer at Hilo, a carrier left for Kailua via, Puna, Volcano House, Waiohinu, Papa and return. This route was performed by coach to Waiohinu. A regular stage route ran between Hilo and Pahala starting in the early 1890's. The Hilo carrier probably went only as far as Waiohinu and another carrier left Kailua or Kealakekua upon arrival of the Kinau and went south through Kona to Hookena where he met the Ka'u carrier. The route between Kona and Ka'u was performed on horseback. Upon arrival of the Mauna Loa at the Ka'u port of Punaluu, a carrier left for Hilo via Pahala and Volcano House.

Pahala 281_01 (I) 32&39

Mailed at Pahala on March 3, 1884 and carried by the overland carrier to Hilo, where it was loaded on the weekly steamer for Honolulu.

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